Under Florida law, when a person driving a borrowed vehicle causes an accident, the owner of the vehicle may be deemed vicariously liable for any harm incurred in the crash. There is an exception in cases filed in federal court provided by a law known as the Graves Amendment, though, for parties that are engaged in the leasing or sale of motor vehicles that rent a car to the party involved in the crash. In a recent Florida opinion issued in a car accident case, a court discussed evidence needed to prove a party falls under the exception and should not be held vicariously liable. If you were hurt in a collision caused by a careless driver, you could be entitled to compensation, and it is advisable to speak to a seasoned Florida car accident attorney to determine your rights.
The Facts of the Case
It is reported that the driver took his wife’s car to the defendant dealership to be serviced and was provided a loaner vehicle to borrow in the interim. It is disputed whether the driver signed a rental agreement. Regardless, one week later, he was involved in a collision with the plaintiff, who suffered substantial injuries. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, arguing it was vicariously liable for the driver’s negligent acts that led to the accident. After discovery was completed, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Graves Amendment applied, and therefore, it could not be found liable as a matter of law.
The Graves Amendment
The Graves Amendment preempts vicarious liability under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine. It provides that the owner of a car, who rents or leases the car to another person, will not be liable for harm that arises out of the possession or operation of the car if the owner is engaged in the business of renting or leasing motor vehicles, and did not engage in any negligent acts or criminal wrongdoing.
A defendant arguing that the Graves Amendment applies must prove each factor. In the subject case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to establish the Amendment applied. The court disagreed, noting that the plaintiff expressly admitted that the defendant owned the car in question, and therefore, ownership was conclusively established. The court also noted that the plaintiff failed to cite any evidence that would place ownership in dispute.
Similarly, the court found that the defendant adequately demonstrated it was involved in the business of renting and leasing vehicles. The court found the defendant’s evidence lacking as to the third element, however, and noted there was an issue of fact regarding whether the vehicle was rented to the driver. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion.
Meet with an Experienced Florida Attorney
People who lend their cars to dangerous drivers should be held accountable for any harm that ensues. If you were injured in an accident caused by a reckless driver operating a borrowed vehicle, you could be owed compensation, and you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Jarrett Blakeley is an experienced Florida car accident attorney with the skills and resources needed to help you seek a just result. You can contact Mr. Blakeley at (800) 602-5000 or via the form online to set up a conference.